When Anne Noggle saw the first image emerge in a tray of developing fluid, she knew that she would be a photographer forever on.
But, while some of her early photographs show images such as sunshine streaming into a bathroom, a dachsund waddling next to a Volkswagen and two naked women behind desks seeming to be having a usual work day at the University of New Mexico Art Department, she soon began focusing more and more on faces, particularly faces of aged people, particularly women, and very often herself.
Young people’s faces might be prettier, but they don’t tell a story. In older people, according to Noggle, “this thing we call character” has been developing over time, with experience recorded in the furrows etched into their skin, showing “an acceptance of life and understanding of what it is about.”
Noggle tells her own story in photographs she has taken of herself, as well as in an episode of “Colores” featuring her. That video, produced by KNME-TV, plays in a second-floor gallery that displays her black-and-white prints at the New Mexico Museum of Art.
Her voice is both sassy and serene in the video as she discusses her work, and how and why particular images were made, bringing an immediacy and humanity to the artist who died 10 years ago.
And it’s a particularly appropriate setting for Noggle’s images and voice: She served as the museum’s first photography curator from 1970-76.
In the “Colores” episode, she reads a poem she wrote, including the lines, “Where did all the promise go? Where did all the friends go? Have we dissolved into the past?”
Her photographs would offer an emphatic answer “no,” with faces strong and vital gazing back at the viewer. But Noggle’s past undoubtedly plays a role in her artistic vision.
With a pilot’s license in hand even before she finished high school in Evanston, Ill., Noggle was a flight instructor as a Women’s Air Force Service Pilot (WASP) during World War II.
At a reunion when most of her fellow pilots would have been in their 60s to 80s, Noggle took posed portraits of the women, some dressed in their uniforms, gazing proudly straight into the camera lens. She said she wanted people to see them as fighters, rather than have them discount, or even look right through, those wrinkled women.
Noggle went on to work as a flight instructor, a stunt flyer in an aerial circus and crop-duster before serving overseas again with the military. It was those years of crop-dusting, though, that grounded her with emphysema, which in turn brought her to Albuquerque to study art at the University of New Mexico, where she completed bachelor’s and masters degrees, and later served as an adjunct professor.
When her lung problems required surgery, one operation on each within two years, she felt the process aged her so much that she got a facelift – and documented the images of the bruising and scars left in its immediate wake.
“If any group of people is set aside in society, it’s older people,” she said, so she set forth to make photographs that captured the vitality, and even the sexuality and sensuality, of people in their senior years.
In one photo, Noggle languidly lies on the floor of a Pacific Northwest rain forest, posing as a nymph. Floating in the water of Cochiti Lake, formality and propriety are suggested by a string of pearls encircling her neck.
And, in a photo from her “Stellar by Starlight” series, she jumps upwards from her jacuzzi in a spray of water, wearing only a tiara and her glasses – under the appreciative regard of two significantly younger men.
She kept her glasses on, Noggle noted in the “Colores” episode, to indicate that, even as the image was playful, it also was serious.
“Hey, look at me. Here I am,” Noggle said of her self-portraits. “I’m not out to pasture.”
And a photo she took of a set of dentures resting in her mother’s hand shows “the beauty of the small gestures of our lives,” Noggle said.
In a news release, Katherine Ware, the museum’s curator of photography, said that Noggle’s contributions as an artist have not been fully appreciated or evaluated. “‘Assumed Identities’ is an attempt to examine her work in depth on the 10th anniversary of her death,” she said.